"There's no way you could just walk away from your contract," she said.
Consumer advocates said the stakes go up as we rely more on our cellphones.
Federal data show that the percentage of households with cellphones and no land line increased to 13.6% in June 2007, from 5% three years earlier. And from 2001 to 2006 the average monthly usage by all wireless customers nearly doubled, to 714 minutes from 380 minutes.
But familiarity has bred contempt.
Wireless companies are highly unpopular. Although complaints have grown less quickly than the number of subscribers, cellphone providers ranked first among all industries in complaints to the Council of Better Business Bureaus from 2004 to 2006.
In October, readers of Consumer Reports magazine ranked cellphone service 18th out of 20 industries in customer satisfaction, ahead of only digital cable TV and personal-computer makers' technical support.
"There's some tension there as people adjust to the way the wireless industry does things as opposed to the land-line phone companies," said Rachelle Chong, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission.
California has been active in trying to regulate the wireless industry. In 2004, the commission approved a tough telecommunications bill of rights. But new appointees to the commission scaled back the rules a year later. Since then they have added more staff members to focus on responding to complaints, Chong said.
States are allowed to regulate terms and conditions of wireless contracts. They were given that right by a 1993 federal law that made all other wireless issues national and took a light regulatory approach to encourage growth of the nascent industry. The law worked: Wireless subscribers soared to 243 million last year from 16 million in 1993.
"The wireless industry continues to be one of the great consumer and economic success stories of the 21st century," said Steve Largent, president of CTIA -- the Wireless Assn., a trade group of leading cellphone companies.
The industry does not oppose some national regulations, Largent said, but it wants to avoid rules that vary state by state.
The most recent congressional proposal, by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), seeks to continue a regulatory balance. It would add tougher nationwide rules, such as giving customers the ability to cancel their contracts without penalty within the first 30 days. It also would require early termination fees on a two-year contract to be cut in half or more after a year, while allowing states to help the FCC enforce those rules and in some cases set their own.
Consumer advocates said lawmakers and regulators needed to keep the pressure on wireless companies and that states often could react more quickly to new problems than Washington could.
Martinez, the East Hollywood Verizon customer, estimates that he now uses his cellphone for 98% of his calls and wants more protections.
"I don't want to say there's widespread abuse," he said, "but there's a certain amount of it out there."